Stand Up For ChilOut
ChilOut is a not for profit, community-founded organisation dedicated to freeing child seeking asylum from government facilitated detention centres. ChilOut’s mission isn’t simply worthwhile, but it’s almost essential – as Australian citizens we have a duty to campaign for justice when injustice is committed in our country’s name.
This weekend, Howler presents Stand Up For ChilOut: a monster comedy event that’ll raise funds to help further the work of ChilOut. In a demonstration of how community members can contribute to the organisation, the event’s been organised by former stand up comedian Terri Psiakis.
“I have no role within their organisation other than supporter,” she says. “I wanted to help them out. So being a former stand up comedian, who’s no longer doing stand-up but certainly still has lots of mates and connections in the industry, I thought that I could put on a stand up comedy benefit and hopefully raise some cash for them.”
In a much nicer world, no one would be detained for seeking a better life away from violence and political unrest. But ChilOut recognises the especially dire plight of children in these awful situations. The organisation aims to help asylum seeking children by speaking up on their behalf, lobbying for change and raising awareness. Psiakis is a mother of two, and the more she learned about the treatment of children in detention, she saw no choice but to act.
“With the news articles about what’s happening to kids who are being held in detention – I’m talking about things like the Moss Review and The Forgotten Children report – it got me to the point where I just thought, ‘I either have to stop reading about this, because I can’t handle it anymore or I have to do something, even the tiniest bit, to help these kids’.”
At present there are over 200 children in detention centres spread across the Australian mainland and on Nauru, and more than 400 more in community detention. Suffice to say, the living conditions aren’t exactly pretty. “One of [ChilOuts] main aims is to educate people about what’s happening to children in detention,” says Psiakis. “I think that it’s so important for people to know about the reality that’s brought about by our government polices.
“It’s something that’s not as widely publicised as it could or should be. I get a lot of my news about this sort of stuff from the non-mainstream news sources and from refugee advocates who are speaking one on one with people who are in detention. I just think if more people knew about this, maybe more people would kick up a bit of fuss about it. And maybe more people would demand a bit more from their government representatives and maybe even vote differently.”
Even when people are aware of the grim state of affairs, bipartisan support for detention centres leads to a pervasive feeling of helplessness. Concrete change won’t happen overnight, but people can still make a contribution.
“One of the things that I tell my kids is that, ‘Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.’ And that applies to a whole range of different things. It’s not like we can wave a magic wand and suddenly someone will go, ‘Let’s do this whole thing differently.’ But little by little, there are lots of different things that can be done that add up to a big thing.”
Here’s where Stand Up For ChilOut comes in. The event boasts a huge lineup of Australian comedians, including Tripod, Anne Edmonds, Greg Fleet, Josh Earl, Dave O’Neil, Tom Gleeson, Geraldine Hickey, Lawrence Mooney, Luke McGregor, Denise Scott, Cal Wilson, and Harley Breen. It’s essentially the majority of standout performers from this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, but pulling together the lineup was easier than you might imagine.
“I guess due to the nature of the cause, once people knew what it was for, everybody was very enthusiastic about getting involved. Perhaps not surprisingly the performers who are also parents were the first to go, ‘Yes – I’ll be there.’ But even the Howler people have just been fantastic and have been very generous in donating the venue.
“I actually got contacted by other comedians who had heard of the event and were asking to be involved because of who it was going to benefit. People feel so helpless about this whole thing that the tiniest little thing they can do to help, they jump at it. I think that’s wonderful.”
In the words of the official publicity material, it’s a “funny fundraiser for an unfunny cause,” and laughter will indeed be the order of the night. However, there will be some emphasis placed on the operations of ChilOut.
“You do want to let people in a little bit who might not be altogether familiar with what ChilOut does. You want them know about the importance of the work they do without bringing down the night. It’s a stand-up night, so the purpose is obviously to raise funds, but the night’s about getting together to have a laugh.”
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY